Identifying Plagiarism: How Can I Tell if a Research Paper is Plagiarized?

Plagiarism in research is a growing problem as the internet makes it easier than ever to find and copy articles and information. Plagiarism takes a variety of forms, but fundamentally is when a writer takes credit for work that is not theirs. While plagiarism is not against the law, plagiarism in research is unethical and goes against the honor code of nearly every academic institution. Because of the increasing problem of plagiarism in research, it is critical for professors, writers, researchers, and students to be able to identify what plagiarism in research looks like. In this article we will look at why plagiarism in research is a problem, the different forms it takes, and how and why to avoid committing plagiarism.

Is Plagiarism Really a Problem?

Is plagiarism in research really a serious problem? In short, yes. In 2021, 12.2% of students surveyed in English-speaking countries admitted to having plagiarized someone else’s work. Data published by the site Retraction Watch indicated the majority of published scientific papers that have been retracted were flagged for plagiarism, fabrication, or falsification of data. There is an argument to be made that the increase in the number of papers flagged for plagiarism in the past two decades is not only due to increasing plagiarism, but also due to stricter editorial practices and the increased use of plagiarism detection software. Whatever the reason, it is clear that plagiarism in the research community remains a big issue for students and academics alike.

Plagiarism in research causes problems in the research community for several reasons. First, plagiarism undermines trust in the validity of scientific and academic publication. If the integrity and quality of published work cannot be trusted, then this damages the credibility of research as a whole. Second, plagiarism in research can result in the misallocation of limited grant research funding to projects or proposals that are not the original work of the researcher who submitted the application. Third, plagiarism in research can result in copyright infringement, which is a crime. Finally, stealing the work of others and failing to acknowledge or credit the true author is a form of intellectual theft, and is dishonest. If plagiarism is widespread, it makes researchers reluctant to share their work with others, which can harm scientific progress overall.

Types of Plagiarism in Research

So what are the different forms that plagiarism in research can take? Below is a table summarizing some of the most common types of plagiarism committed by students, writers, and researchers. Knowing the types of plagiarism in research is critical in helping people be able to identify and prevent any cases of plagiarism.

Type of Plagiarism

What it Looks Like

Direct PlagiarismCopying someone else’s work exactly as it appears in the original. No quotation marks. Citation is insufficient or missing.
Paraphrasing PlagiarismRewriting someone else’s work very slightly. Changes one or two words, perhaps uses “find and replace” for specific vocabulary. Citation is insufficient or missing.
Mosaic PlagiarismCombines the work of several authors without changing the text or substance; may combine different sentences from authors into one paragraph, or combine two sentences copied or almost copied. Citation is insufficient or missing.
Self PlagiarismReuses your own previously submitted or published work without citation.
False CitationCitation is insufficient, leads to a broken link or retracted paper, or does not exist.

Reasons to Avoid Plagiarism

We have already covered the reasons that plagiarism in research can be damaging to academia and the scientific community, and talked about why it is unethical. But it is also important to remember that committing plagiarism can have serious consequences for your life and career. Students who are caught plagiarizing can suffer consequences ranging from a failing grade to expulsion or even degree revocation in the most serious cases. Even if it is found much later in your life and career that you committed plagiarism as a student, this can have devastating professional consequences including losing your job and harm to your reputation. Professors, researchers, scientists, and writers who commit plagiarism also risk irreparable harm to their reputations as well as their careers. If you are caught committing plagiarism in research, who will trust your work going forward? Committing plagiarism in research is a fast path towards losing future funding and job opportunities as well as professional shame.

How to Check for Plagiarism

There are multiple ways to check for plagiarism. One way is to review papers for obvious signs of plagiarism. Such signs include evidence that text has been copied and pasted directly from another source into the paper you are reading. This can be changes in font or text size, as well as a sudden change in tone, spelling and grammar, or writing quality. Perhaps the sections do not flow smoothly or seem to jump suddenly from one topic to another. Maybe the writing switches from American to British English, or seems to reference a table or figure that doesn’t exist. These can all be signs of plagiarism.

Another way is to take advantage of scientific plagiarism checking software like this tool from Enago to detect and prevent plagiarism in your own work. The widespread adoption of plagiarism checkers by journal editors, academic institutions, professors, teachers, and so on is actually likely partially responsible for the increase in plagiarism being detected. Such tools have become indispensable for authors who want to make sure that their writing remains plagiarism-free. Scientists and researchers can use scientific plagiarism checkers to compare their work to millions of other published papers that reside in online article repositories. No matter what strategy you use, checking papers for plagiarism is a crucial part of the research and publishing process. Try a plagiarism checker today to make sure that your writing remains plagiarism-free.